Sign indicating hearing protection is necessary.

Understanding you need to protect your hearing is one thing. It’s another matter to know when to safeguard your hearing. It’s not as straight forward as, for example, recognizing when to use sunblock. (Is it sunny and will you be outside? Then you need sunblock.) Even recognizing when you need eye protection is easier (Doing some hammering? Cutting some wood or working with dangerous chemicals? Use eye protection).

It can feel like there’s a huge grey area when addressing when to use ear protection, and that can be detrimental. Usually, we’ll defer to our natural tendency to avoid hearing protection unless we’re given information that a specific activity or place is hazardous.

Evaluating The Risks

In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as damage to the ears or the possibility of permanent sensorineural hearing loss. Here are some examples to prove the point:

  • A very loud rock concert is attended by person A. 3 hours is approximately how long the concert lasts.
  • Person B owns a landscaping company. She spends a significant amount of time mowing lawns, then she goes home to a quiet house and reads.
  • Person C is an office worker.

You might think that person A (let’s call her Ann, to be a little less formal) might be in more hearing danger. For most of the next day, her ears will still be ringing from the loud show. It seems fair to assume that Ann’s activity was quite risky.

The noise that person B (let’s just call her Betty), is subjected to is not as loud. There’s no ringing in her ears. So her hearing must be less hazardous, right? Not necessarily. Because Betty is mowing all day. The truth is, the damage builds up a little bit at a time even though they don’t ring out. If experienced every day, even moderately loud noises can have a damaging affect on your hearing.

Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less clear. The majority of people understand that you need to safeguard your hearing while using equipment such as a lawnmower. But although Chris has a fairly quiet job, her long morning commute on the train every day is fairly loud. Additionally, although she works behind her desk all day, she listens to her music through earbuds. Does she need to consider protection?

When is it Time to be Concerned About Safeguarding Your Hearing?

The standard rule of thumb is that if you need to raise your voice in order to be heard, your environment is loud enough to do harm to your ears. And you should consider using earmuffs or earplugs if your surroundings are that loud.

If you want to think about this a bit more scientifically, you need to use 85dB as your limit. Sounds above 85dB have the potential, over time, to result in damage, so you need to consider using ear protection in those conditions.

Your ears don’t have their own sound level meter to notify you when you reach that 85dB level, so countless hearing professionals recommend downloading special apps for your phone. You will be able to take the necessary steps to protect your ears because these apps will tell you when the sound is getting to a harmful level.

A Few Examples

Even if you do download that app and take it with you, your phone might not be with you wherever you go. So a few examples of when to safeguard your ears may help you develop a good baseline. Here we go:

  • Domestic Chores: We already talked about how something as straightforward as mowing the lawn, when done often enough, can necessitate hearing protection. Chores, including mowing, are probably something you don’t even think about, but they can result in hearing impairment.
  • Exercise: You know your morning cycling class? Or maybe your evening yoga session? Each of these cases might require ear protection. Those instructors who use microphones and sound systems (and loud music) to motivate you may be good for your heart rate, but all that volume is bad for your ears.
  • Listening to music with earbuds. OK, this doesn’t require protection but does require caution. Give consideration to how loud the music is, how long you’re listening to it, and whether it’s playing directly into your ears. Noise-canceling headphones are a great choice to steer clear of having to turn the volume way up.
  • Driving & Commuting: Spending all day as an Uber or Lyft driver? Or perhaps you’re riding the subway after waiting for a little while downtown. The noise of living in a city is bad enough for your ears, not to mention the added damage caused by turning up your tunes to drown out the city noise.
  • Operating Power Tools: You recognize that working all day at your factory job will necessitate ear protection. But what if you’re simply puttering around your garage all day? Most hearing specialists will recommend you use hearing protection when using power tools, even if it’s only on a hobbyist level.

These examples may give you a suitable baseline. When in doubt, however, you should defer to protection. In most cases, it’s better to over-protect your ears than to leave them subject to possible injury in the future. If you want to be able to hear tomorrow, protect today.

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